The Paly Voice

The ultimate pearl milk tea challenge: The Castro Quadruplets

Alex Merkle-Raymond, Author

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Hello, I am Alex, and I have taken it upon myself to bring you the news and my opinions surrounding all the boba places in the Bay Area (and maybe even beyond). I am, personally, an avid fan of all boba drinks, having consumed over 80 of them since April.

First things first, what is boba? Boba tea has many different names. Boba, PMT, pearl milk tea, bubble tea, tapioca milk tea or balls drink are all names that are frequently used for this beverage. Boba and PMT are the most commonly used, so I will be using that terminology for this blog.

According to SFgate, there are currently 75 PMT shops in San Francisco, the East Bay and the Peninsula. For this first installment, I thought it would only be appropriate to review the most commonly visited places by Palo Alto High School students: the Castro Quadruplets. In downtown Mountain View, there are four stores that sell PMT, all within a three block radius: Verde Tea Cafe, Tapioca Express, Tea Era Cafe and Jazen.

Verde Tea Cafe

Overall rating: 8.5/10

Student opinion:

“I like their variety of drinks,” freshman Leo Trejo said. “They serve food as well, and the environment is comforting.”

What I ordered: Coconut Pearl Milk Tea with extra pearls ($3.97)

The small size at Verde Tea Cafe is the larger size at most other PMT places. This is the only place that also features a "tub". The pearls at Verde are also the largest to date.

The small size at Verde Tea Cafe is the larger size at most other PMT places. This is the only place that also features a “tub”. The pearls at Verde are also the largest to date. Photo by Alex Merkle-Raymond

Features:

Verde is one of the most commonly visited PMT places by Paly students. There is always a line, but the servers are very efficient and get even large orders done quickly. The small size, 22 ounces, at Verde is the larger size at most other PMT places, so it is the best bargain. They are also the only place with a “tub,” which is the largest size, 32 ounces, PMT available nearby.

One of the reasons for this rating is because of the large variety of drinks Verde has available. Not only are there around 30 milk tea flavors, but freeze blends and smoothies are also available. Pearls, jelly or bricks can be added to any order or not included at all, if that suits you. The pearls are large and chewy.

One of the biggest issues I have with Verde is the inconsistency. Often, there is too much powder or too much sweetener, and other times, there is not enough, and it’s like drinking a giant cup of milk. When Verde gets the proportions right, it’s one of the best places available, but it can be risky.

Verde also has meal options if the drink isn’t filling enough for you, which range from chicken on a stick to cheesecake. Other upsides to Verde are its use of the super easy rewards system FIVESTARS and the availability of free WiFi.

 

Tapioca Express

Overall rating: 5/10

Student opinion:

“I love the assortment,” sophomore Victor Carlsson said. “There are so many flavors to choose from. I really like the service and rewards program.”

What I ordered: Coconut Milk Tea with extra pearls ($3.70)

Tapioca Express has very soft pearls and has the largest variety of flavors available. The staff is very friendly and gives recommendations on the extensive menu.

Tapioca Express has very soft pearls and has the largest variety of flavors available. The staff is very friendly and gives recommendations on the extensive menu. Photo by Alex Merkle-Raymond

Features:

The staff at Tapioca Express is very friendly and patient. There are so many flavors – even to the point that it can almost be a little overwhelming. When looking at the menu, the cost of pearls is not already added into the price on the sign, so it can be difficult when budgeting.

The pearls are very large and soft, allowing them to easily get stuck in the straw, which makes it very difficult to drink. They are also overly sweet and difficult to chew. Additionally, the tea flavor is very pungent, almost to the point of bitterness.

There are meal options, but I have never seen anyone order any food whenever I go there, which is a little unsettling. The rewards system at Tapioca Express is a little complicated. Large drinks and small drinks are stamped separately, and you can only redeem a free drink of the same size as the 10 drinks you’ve already bought.

 

Jazen Tea (Served at Pho Hoa)

Overall rating: 6/10

Student opinion:

“It’s a fun place, and I like that they have both noodles and PMT available,” senior Kelly Shi said. “Their PMT is really good and their noodles have a really good flavor. I really like their pearls.”

What I ordered: Jasmine Pearl Milk Tea ($3.55)

The three flavors offered at Jazen are all quite sweet. Jazen is served at a Pho restaurant with a variety of other fruity beverages available.

The three flavors offered at Jazen are all quite sweet. Jazen is served at a Pho restaurant with a variety of other fruity beverages available. Photo by Alex Merkle-Raymond

Features:

Jazen is part of a larger restaurant that serves pho and has smoothies and fruit drinks. The PMT offered only comes in three different flavors: Jasmine, Original and Apple Jack.

Jazen is one of the few places that uses syrup as a flavoring, and it’s very obvious. There is often a ribbon of syrup along the inside the cup, which can make the drink too sweet and causes the buyer to shake the drink around to attain a uniform sweetness.

While Jazen specializes in adding fruit to the drinks, the pearls are still good: large and firm. The cups are larger and wider than at most PMT stores. They do not fit in the average cup holder or smaller hand.

The staff often waits for orders to build up before making them all, so it might take a while before the drinks are ready. Jazen uses a FIVESTARS  rewards system and also participates in various coupon sites.

 

Tea Era Cafe

Overall rating: 7/10

Student opinion:

“The service is kind of bad,” freshman Hollie Chiao said. “Some drinks I ordered were kind of sandy. Their coconut is not up to my standards, which are pretty high. It’s too frothy.”

What I ordered: Large Jasmine Pearl Milk Tea with extra pearls ($4.08)

Features:

Tea Era Cafe is very authentic. Often the drinks have remnants of the powder flavor. The pearls are very small and firm and given generously.

Tea Era Cafe is very authentic. Often the drinks have remnants of the powder flavor. The pearls are very small and firm and given generously. Photo by Alex Merkle-Raymond

Tea Era is a very small restaurant that is covered in handmade signs of drinks and rewards cards. The menu is in Chinese and English and has some very unique flavors. Besides the usual honey, coconut and strawberry milk tea flavors, Tea Era has Genmai brown rice, barley and mulberry to name a few.

The pearls are small and firm, making it very easy to drink many at a time. The powder never dissolves all the way into the drink and ends up coating the inside of the cup and the straw. Sometimes, there may even be a clump of powder that requires vigorous shaking to break it up.

Even though the tea might not be a very smooth texture, it does have lots of flavor and is rarely too sweet. The granule texture is a trademark of Tea Era that you quickly get used to and come to enjoy. I have gone many times and they have never messed up my order, which cannot be said of many other PMT places.

There can be a long line, and the service is not very fast for the large amount of staffers there. The rewards card is a stamp system. After buying 10 drinks, the next drink is free as long as there are no additions.

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